More than 100 windows in the former Harley St School classroom block were not enough for owners James and Lisa Li.

The couple needed just one more before they could call it home.

Mr Li, 50, who works as Masterton District Council's utility services manager, shifted to the site with his wife in November and is today "living the dream" after buying the entire 1.8-hectare school property five years ago for $500,000.

There had been disbelief and some words of caution from friends and colleagues at the time, he said, with "some of them saying I was crazy, asking me what I was doing, saying I shouldn't. We went ahead anyway."


The couple added the extra window to the 300sq m block on a south-facing wall, installed three heat pumps, and hung new doors on the original "wall of glass" that fronts the structure, revealing views of the playing field and the Tararua Ranges beyond.

The interior is abundantly and naturally lit, boasting a pitched and insulated ceiling close to 4 metres from the floor at its highest, matai timber floorboards polyurethaned throughout, and tiles in the kitchen, laundry, bathroom and toilet areas.

The couple also keep a handful of egg-laying hens in a nearby coop and have laid out a vegetable garden and planted a row of fruit trees alongside the playing field.

The property was abandoned during the school mergers in 2004 and while arsonists had since torched and razed the school hall -- striking twice within weeks of Mr Li and his late wife, Wen Gao, buying the property -- two classroom blocks remain alongside an administration building, the school pool, pathways and sports courts, a stage, a small wall of tiles bearing more than 300 names, and playing fields that take close to three hours to mow on a ride-on machine.

There was also a memorial plaque Mr Li is keeping in place for Piri Ratima, a former student and one of several victims killed in the Judds Rd massacre in 1992.

The spate of earlier raids had included 11 separate fires lit at once under the 500sq m B Block of classrooms, and the arson of a small building near the pool.

Windows and the scorched remnants of doorways had been boarded shut, and Mr Li said worry and concern about the property had taken a toll on himself and his late wife, who died of cancer in 2011.

Mr Li said he had since developed close relationships with his neighbours, who watched over the property, as he did theirs.


There had been no arsons or vandal attacks for several years now.

Mr Li said he and his wife moved into the smaller three-classroom block in November and, without need of resource consents, had since turned one classroom into a lounge, partitioning the other two in to four bedrooms that included the master bedroom and an expansive walk-in wardrobe.

The class cloakrooms and a connecting hallway running the length of the block now comprise a fully-equipped kitchen and walk-in pantry, a laundry and separate shower, bath and toilet, and an en suite toilet, shower and bath for the master bedroom.

"It's still a work in progress. I get builders to help and a lot of things you can do pretty cheaply. I know a way to treat the windows against heat loss without need for double glazing and that sort of thing saves a lot of money.

"I still plan to subdivide, but for now it's easier for us to live here and maintain the property and keep it safe," he said.

"I'm not really into the money side, so if I subdivide now there will be too many things to think about.

"It's about imagination for us right now, and for another year or two yet. This will be our legacy and, for me, it really is living the dream."